Why aren’t more girls going into engineering, science and technology?
Elizabeth Croft, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of British Columbia, has some ideas why not and what to do about it.
Prof. Croft has been named the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the British Columbia and Yukon Region. A five-year term, the chair’s primary focus is to increase the participation of women in science and engineering and to provide role models for women active in, and considering, careers in these fields.
Currently at UBC, women make up more than half of the undergraduate population. But only 18 per cent of engineering undergraduates are women. Women are also under-represented in computer science, physics and mathematics. Within engineering and high-technology careers, attrition rates of females are estimated as high as 40 per cent.
However, in other parts of the world such as Asia, Eastern Europe and South America, women represent about up to 50 per cent of the student body in these fields. To start, says Croft, North American institutions need to address and change girls’ perceptions that it’s not “normal or cool” to study engineering or science.
Croft also acknowledges the differences in how boys and girls approach career choices. For example, girls are more drawn to the helping professions. To many young women, engineering doesn’t obviously fit into that category, observes Croft, despite the fact that “engineers envision, design and build the medical, environmental and consumer technology that helps people live healthier, greener and more connected lives.”
That’s exactly what Croft has been able to do in her career. To read the August Popular Science magazine story about Croft’s “RISER” rehab robot for stroke victims, scroll to number seven of the 10 images in the gallery for Rise of The Helpful Machines: http://www.popsci.com/technology/gallery/2010-07/gallery-rise-helpful-machines.
At UBC, Croft is including a “community-service learning” module in the mechanical engineering curriculum so students gain hands-on experience how their skills and knowledge can benefit others. This fall, close to 130 second-year students will be able to earn credits while working on community and industry projects.
To support workplace change, Croft is partnering with industry and existing networks for women in science and technology. She aims to help the traditional technical workplace find ways to accommodate the nonlinear trajectory for employees who may need flexibility to raise families, care for aging parents or nurture personal growth.
“This can end up benefitting all workers in these fields,” says Croft.
To read the UBC Faculty of Applied Science media release about Croft’s NSERC Chair, please visit: http://bit.ly/bkSGXZ